Doug's 1st Movie (1999)
Directed by Maurice Joyce
Cast Voices: Thomas McHugh, Fred Newman, Constance Shulman, Chris Phillips, Frank Welker, Doug Preis, Guy Hadley, Alice Playten.
1999 78 minutes
Rated: (nothing objectionable).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 27, 1999.
Because of last year's horrendous, excruciating "The Rugrats Movie," one honestly could only expect the worst from this recent animated feature film adaptation of the popular children's show, "Doug's 1st Movie." As the film played itself out, I noticed one vital difference between the two: while "Rugrats" was one of the most boring, junky family films to come along in some time, I couldn't help but be swept up in the spell that "Doug's 1st Movie" put me under, which was one of great, unexpected sweetness. Though I have never seen the television series, I now have a reason to actually give it a chance, where it airs on Nickelodeon.
Doug Funnie (vioced by Thomas McHugh) is an average 12-year-old living in the small, generally peaceful town of Bluffington, with all of the usual ordeals of any pre-teen, as he must constantly fight not only for respect from some of the older, more popular kids in his school, but for the girl of his heart, Patti Mayonnaise (Constance Shulman), whom he wants to ask out to the Valentine's Day Dance. At the same time, Doug, along with his friend, Skeeter (Fred Newman), have a chance encounter with the legendary monster of the local Lucky Duck Lake, and is surprised to find that the creature, named Herman Melville after his favorite book, "Moby Dick," is actually friendly, and trying to gain solace from the severely polluted lake, due to the company, Bluffco, releasing harmful chemicals into the waters. When Doug is encouraged to keep the monster a secret so as to protect him from the community, this poses a problem with Patti, since she mistakenly believes he is lying to her, and starts to hang around with the Doug's bullish nemesis, Guy (Guy Hadley).
To be clear about things, "Doug's 1st Movie" is only the second animated feature in the last sixteen months that I have enjoyed, the other being the spectacular, far superior "The Prince of Egypt." "Doug" is certainly more minor and slight fare than "The Prince of Egypt," but that isn't a bad thing, as I was pleasantly proven wrong about my low expectations. The characters in "Doug's 1st Movie" were all likable and well-written, and the complicated relationship between Doug and Patti was genuine and far more involving than what is usually seen in a film aimed at the young kiddie market. Although this aspect of the story was definately the strongest element, the main plot involving the kind-hearted creature, a la "E.T.," was also pleasant enough.
The merits of the animation could be debated, but I thought, for this film, at least, it worked. The colors were always vibrant and bright, and although the drawings were simple, they were also visually stimulating, something the recent dreary animated film, "The King and I," cannot attest to. Another interesting thing to note is that there are several overshot views of the whole town of Bluffington, including a shot of a map, and in the film, the locations were actually explored and accurate in their placement that we had previously seen them in. Bluffington, believe it or not, is a town I'd actually like to visit, if it actually existed.
Not only is "Doug's 1st Movie" more mature in its treatment of a children's pic (thankfully, there are no potty jokes in sight), but it also included an often sly screenplay, as well as some in-jokes that only adults might "get." For example, when discussing the town while looking at the map, Doug mentions that right behind Lucky Duck Lake is Crystal Lake (a reference to the slasher series, "Friday the 13th").
While watching the movie, I was also taken aback at how effective the voiceovers were, especially Constance Shulman, as Patti Mayonnaise, a fetching young girl with a delightful southern accent. Adding several laughs was Beebe (voiced by Alice Playten), a wealthy, spoiled friend of Doug's who is always commanding her father and servants to do anything she asks.
At a scant 78 minutes, "Doug's 1st Movie" is short and entertaining enough to never overstay its welcome, and I was in constant enjoyment as I watched it. After the end credits appeared, the earth didn't shake, but I was in a slight state of shock at how much I really did like it, with the wonderful last scene, set on the dock of the lake between Doug and Patti, only confirming my enthusiasm. Released by Walt Disney Pictures, "Doug's 1st Movie" is one of their lesser efforts in terms of how high its profile is, but is actually their best film since 1996's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," which only proves that flashy, stylish animation isn't the only key to a successful film: you also need to have a diverting, original story and characters you care about. You do not, however, need a non-stop string of elaborate, corny musical numbers.
©1999 by Dustin Putman